Shelter pet advocacy is not static in nature.  As the no kill movement grows and evolves, so do we as individual advocates.  As more information and experience becomes available, we may learn better ways of performing tasks and communicating ideas.  While we remain committed to the basic principle that shelter pets have the right to live, our views on the who, what, when, where and why of various details may require reexamination and modification over time.  This is a natural part of the growth of any movement and as challenging as change may seem at times, it’s a good thing.  It means our movement is alive.

For some time, I have been reexamining my view of the 90% save rate which serves as a benchmark for many animal shelters who use the term “no kill” to describe themselves.  Nathan Winograd talks about how the figure became established in a January 2013 post on his blog:

When I worked in San Francisco, we were saving roughly 80% of animals communitywide, but treatable animals were still being killed at the city pound. Because the leadership of the San Francisco SPCA refused to expand the safety-net of care (my plea to the Board of Directors to commit to saving all treatable animals having fallen on deaf ears), I left for Tompkins County to prove that at an open admission shelter could not only save all the healthy animals, but all the treatable ones as well. And while I was there, our save rate hit 93% (about 95% using the methods in vogue today). Reno and then several other communities emulated the model, and, likewise, began posting similar save rates: Charlottesville hit 92% and Reno hit 91%.

But with many communities claiming they were No Kill while still killing half or more of all animals, I promulgated what I called, “The 90% Rule,” arguing that—based on the best performing shelters at the time, along with dog bite extrapolation data and rates of infectious diseases in the cat and feral population—only when a community was saving animals in the 90th percentile range was it likely zeroing out deaths of healthy and treatable animals.

He explains how things have changed in the 10 years since:

We need a language for success, we need a gauge that we can use to help us compare and contrast shelters so that we know what goal we should be striving for, and governments need measurable benchmarks that more qualitative standards like “No Kill” or “saving all healthy and treatable animals” don’t provide. In that sense, giving people a numerical idea of the percentage of animals a community should be striving to save, a benchmark that many other shelters have been able to achieve is important. Before we had such indicators, our mantra was simply “Stop the Killing.” We had no idea, in practice, what that really meant, or how many animals we thought that should apply to. Now we do. But I do not want people to become complacent that it doesn’t matter if a shelter is killing certain animals as long as the save rate for that shelter hovers in the 90th percentile range. I hope that the enthusiasm which motivated people to embrace the 90% benchmark will also embrace the good news that, in fact, experience is proving that that number is not fixed and we don’t have to stop there.

I understand that bureaucrats need hard numbers which can be plugged into colorful graphs and pie charts.  And I’m happy we have these numbers at our disposal on the occasions we need them.  But I am not a stuffed suit in a political office.  I am someone who loves dogs and cats and strongly believes in their right to live.  I can do qualitative.  I can do nuance.

I do not accept that a shelter is no kill based on statistics alone.  Shelters that save 90% or more of their pets are obviously doing very well.  In elementary school, scores of 90% or higher earned us an “A” which was listed on the report card as “Excellent”.  Shelters saving 90%+ of their animals get an A.  I am thankful for them.  I will celebrate them.  But let’s be real:  There is likely very little difference between a shelter saving 89% and one saving 90%.  It’s just that structured benchmarks are required in some areas and so the former shelter gets a B+ while the latter gets an A-.

There are some people who believe that a 90% save rate is “good enough” and that no further information is needed on any shelter which achieves it.  The issue of killing of healthy/treatable pets at such shelters slides into a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell category.   In some cases I think this stems from desperation on the part of shelter pet advocates whose local shelters are little more than pet killing facilities and to whom a 90% save rate sounds like a fantasy.  In fact, like the shelter that is saving 89%, the one saving 90% may be killing a small number of healthy/treatable pets.  The stats alone don’t tell us the shelter director’s philosophy or the level of commitment to every individual animal.

For me, no kill is not a number.  No kill is the belief that every shelter pet has the right to live and is deserving of individual consideration.  Any shelter which in some way conveys to the public a commitment to every individual animal in its care gets my attention.  I will check the shelter’s stats, expecting to see a very high save rate.  To my mind, verifying the shelter’s public commitment to every individual animal along with annual stats which reflect a save rate near 100% is the best an average outsider can reasonably do in performing due diligence.  In order to delve deeper, individual animal records must be examined.

In such cases where more detailed examination is conducted, the key areas which interest me are the circumstances surrounding each animal who was euthanized and whether the shelter appears to be serving its own community first and reaching out to assist neighboring communities second.  The former is simply to verify that animals who are medically (or behaviorally in rare dog cases) hopeless and suffering are being promptly and humanely euthanized and that no healthy/treatable animals are being killed.  The latter is a more complex issue.

My vision for how a grassroots movement such as no kill will spread nationwide is that it begins locally, then extends to the neighboring county and so on.  The reason I see this as so important is that valuing the lives of every individual shelter pet begins at home and is reinforced by helping our neighbors.  This is how commitment to shelter pets as individuals is demonstrated by a shelter.  Animal groups that import so-called high value shelter dogs from hundreds or thousands of miles away while unadopted dogs in neighboring communities are sent to the kill room are ignoring killing in their own backyard.  I do not subscribe to the notion that “A life saved is a life saved” when it is used to justify this practice.

If no kill advocates do not advocate for the right to live of every individual animal, including the challenging-to-adopt pets, who will?  If no kill advocates do not advocate for the animals in their own and their neighboring communities, who will?  It is unrealistic to expect someone else to care about the unadopted pets in our own and our neighboring communities after we have turned our backs on those animals.  And it is inconsistent with no kill.

A life saved is a life saved sounds swell, unless you’re saying it to an unadopted healthy dog in a kill room one county over from a shelter that imports dogs from out of state.  Say it then and the answer as to what we need to do as no kill advocates seems obvious.

Which brings me back to the basic premise that no kill is not a number.  No kill is loving shelter dogs and cats – every one of them – enough to fight for them and to not turn a blind eye when they are being killed.  It’s asking uncomfortable questions.  It’s not giving up regardless of whether you’ve achieved “good enough”.  It’s a willingness to reexamine ideals and change as the movement grows.  No kill is a commitment which does not lend itself to being graphed but shows itself in a community where homeless dogs and cats are truly sheltered and the color of compassion spills outside the pie chart.

Open Thread

Talk amongst yourselves.  Anything animal-related goes.

Rin Tin Tin

Rin Tin Tin

Treats on the Internets

Another SC shelter director spreads the biggest animal welfare myth in the south:  That it’s ok to ship dogs up north because there is a shortage of animals there due to spay-neuter laws.  Malarkey.

A Baltimore family who lives in public housing and has owned a pair of Pitbulls for 14 years was forced to surrender them to the pound due to BSL.  (Thank you Tamara for the link.)

Prince William worked his final shift with the military on September 10.  Two dogs who had been used to protect him on base were killed after his departure.

King County, WA is considering a proposal which would require veterinarians to turn over the names and addresses of owners who get rabies shots for their pets.  The county wants this info to increase its revenue from pet licensing.  The area vet association is opposing the proposal because member vets don’t want to act as police informants nor do they want to discourage owners from getting their pets vaccinated against rabies.  (Thanks Tamara for the link.)

The NY Times has a piece on hotels pampering pets who travel with their owners.  While it’s encouraging to see more hotel owners realize that pets are family members, offering services such as blow dryer hair styling and nail trims to dogs is not pampering pets.  Most dogs dislike and/or fear these things, some rather strongly.

Cat with a bowtie and a job.  He doesn’t look particularly cuddly, just kind of lazy and super rad.

Now hear this:  I will be on Animal Wise Radio on Sunday, Sept 22 from approximately 2:30-2:50 pm Eastern Time.  During the show’s first hour, Nathan Winograd will be on discussing the CA sheltering white paper.  Tune in live if you can or check out the podcast later.

Beloved Pet Fast Tracked to Kill Room at Hillsborough Co Pound

Besides the most obvious reason shelters should not fast track owner surrendered animals to the kill room – that is, these pets have the right to live – there’s this:  The person presenting himself as the owner may in fact not own the pet being surrendered.  People who are most likely to pose as owners when taking someone else’s animal to a pet killing facility include pet hating neighbors, abusive spouses, and spiteful family members.

Such appears to have been the case with Bella, a Florida cat surrendered to Hillsborough County Animal Services by a family member of the owners in July.  Bella was fast tracked for killing because she was an “owner surrender” even though the real owners loved her very much and were looking for her.  Bella’s owners arrived at the shelter within 48 hours of her surrender but it was too late as Hillsborough Co had already killed her.

Local pet advocates are using Bella’s case to shine a spotlight on needless cat killings and bad policies at the Hillsborough Co pound.  Director Ian Hallett responded to critics in this Tampa Tribune article:

[…] Hallett ended a practice of allowing rescue groups to put after-hours holds on individual animals scheduled to be killed the next day. Bella could have been saved by an email or phone message the night before she was euthanized because animal rescue groups were aware she was there.

In fact, members of two rescue groups were looking for Bella late on the afternoon the day before she was put down, but shelter employees said they couldn’t find her in the cages. Time ran out and there was no after-hours option.


Hallett said he initiated the overnight holds on a pilot basis but it didn’t work out.

“In one week, 80 cats were placed on hold without any subsequent plans to get them out of the shelter,” Hallett said. “That caused a bout of illness in the shelter.”

Let’s be clear:  Allowing rescuers to place overnight holds on cats does not cause cats to get sick.  And killing to prevent the possibility of illness is unethical.

Local advocates want Hallett to end the 2 cat limit on adoptions which he seems to believe prevents rescue groups from hoarding.  Newsflash:  The overwhelming majority of rescuers do not hoard animals and the tiny fraction who do will not be cured by your 2 cat limit.  Another policy which animal advocates take issue with is the killing of pets while cages sit empty.  Hallett defends this practice using the outdated notion that empty cages prevent disease.  Yeesh.  It’s 2013.  We have hundreds of open admission shelters all over the country saving 90% or more of their animals.  And the Hillsborough Co director is stuck on Dead Pets Don’t Sneeze.  This from the guy Hillsborough Co brought in from Austin to reduce the killing.

Hallett defended his policies Thursday, saying he had reduced the cat euthanasia rate this year to 68 percent from 80 percent last year. The shelter takes in about 10,000 cats a year and, Hallett said, the numbers on any given day must be kept down to prevent disease.

As for the five-day hold period on stray animals, Hallett said it is required by state law.

“But if the owner brings it to us there is not a legal requirement to hold the animals,” Hallett said. “At that time, the shelter makes the best possible decision given the available resources.”

If killing is your best possible decision, I would say your best possible decisions suck.

I hope local advocates continue to push for reform at the pound.  Killing a little less is better than killing a little more but it’s still killing – which is the opposite of what shelters are supposed to do.

(Thank you Clarice for the links.)

Merced Police Department Changes Policy Regarding Injured Pets

Effective immediately, the Merced police department in CA will no longer drive injured stray animals to the shooting range for killing.  The change was announced by Lt. Bimley West during a news conference on Tuesday.

“Our citizens have stated the times have changed and it’s time that we make a change,” West said Tuesday. “They have spoken. We have heard them clearly, and we have made a change in our policy.”

While this policy change is welcome news, there are some remaining concerns.

The only time officers will shoot animals is if they are being attacked, West said.

Historically, police officers nationwide have used questionable judgment in determining when lethal force is required against a pet.  And I’m being generous with the term questionable judgment.

I am also concerned that the new policy is impractical in that it requires officers to call a local vet to come to the scene of every injured animal, evaluate the pet and euthanize by injection if warranted.  The city has no vet contracted for this work and finances are a concern.

“I hope we can get vets to do that and work out an agreement to minimize costs,” [Merced Mayor Stan] Thurston said.

He hopes.  Isn’t this the sort of thing that should have been worked out before the policy was changed?  It seems far more realistic to my mind that vets might be willing to help if the injured animal is transported to their clinic, where they will have access to the equipment, staff and supplies needed for evaluation.  I can’t help but wonder if the Merced police department is setting itself up for failure with this policy change which would give them an opening to return to the decades-old practice of driving pets to the shooting range for killing.  Hey, we tried to stop shooting pets to death but we couldn’t get vets to drive out in the rain in the middle of the night to examine injured pets in the road.

I would rather they apply (the dreaded) common sense and figure that since their officers have been driving injured pets to the shooting range all these years, they are capable of driving them to the vet for evaluation.  Vets will surely charge less for services rendered at their own clinics than those rendered in the field on an emergency on-call basis.  And it would seem to be a far more reliable method of obtaining veterinary services in a timely manner.

(Thanks Arlene for the link.)

Veterinarian Accuses AZ Shelter of Criminal Neglect

The police department for the city of Bisbee, AZ runs the animal shelter.  In August, local veterinarian Carol Burke submitted an official complaint to city officials detailing what she describes as “a pattern of criminal neglect” at the shelter.  She begins by sharing the story of an arthritic 85 pound dog named Phoebe whom Dr. Burke indicates was impounded by the Bisbee Animal Shelter as a stray on July 11, 2013.  The timeline of events as outlined in Dr. Burke’s complaint:

July 18:  Bisbee Animal Shelter sends Phoebe to a groomer.  Phoebe returns dripping blood from her back and feet.  The groomer advises the shelter that Phoebe has urine scalding down the length of her back (?!?) and recommends an herbal spray for the dog.  The shelter takes no action.

July 22:  Phoebe is seen by a local vet who prescribes an antibiotic for her skin infection.  Volunteers raid another dog’s pain medication and begin administering it to Phoebe without veterinary supervision.  Records are not kept of medications administered.

July 28:  Dr. Burke sees Phoebe for the first time.  She is told the dog has been lethargic since returning from the groomer’s, seemed to be in pain and “was laying on the concrete at the shelter covered with flies.” The fur had not been clipped away from Phoebe’s burns so Dr. Burke got a groomer to do that.

Shaving revealed third degree burns on Phoebe’s back from the nape of her neck to the base of her tail with multiple areas of charred black leather curling up from raw open tissue. This type of burn is caused by heat or caustic chemical and the distribution of lesions on Phoebe was a typical pattern we see when boiling water, candle wax, etc. accidentally spills on the patient or if someone uses a solvent based chemical to clean an animal or “treat” parasites, odor, etc.

Dr. Burke placed Phoebe on an IV and began daily treatment to help her recover.  She noted Phoebe refused to eat but since records of feeding are not kept at the Bisbee Animal Shelter, was unsure if this was new behavior.  Phoebe was in a lot of pain from her burns so possibly her lack of appetite was related to that.

August 1:  Dr. Burke’s concern over Phoebe’s refusal to eat prompts her to take abdominal x-rays which revealed a tumor.  She sends the x-rays to 2 specialists for their opinions and they agree.

August 2:  Dr. Burke euthanizes Phoebe to end her suffering.

Dr. Burke also mentions two other dogs she treated from the Bisbee Animal Shelter. The first was a female Boxer seen in 2012 who had been diagnosed with a leg abscess and put on an antibiotic by a local vet. Dr. Burke describes seeing the dog emerge from the car:

Her entire left foreleg was twice its normal size and she was in such pain the memory still brings tears to my eyes a year later.

Dr. Burke took x-rays which confirmed her suspicion that the dog was suffering from osteosarcoma which had spread to other organs. She euthanized the dog immediately to end her suffering.

The second dog’s story is equally tragic:

The second case was a young male chocolate Pit Bull who had been vomiting for a week. I saw this dog 9/21 /2012. He was in shock from sepsis and dehydration, also in unspeakable pain, and had not one but two blockages from intussusception (a telescoping of the bowel upon itself which occurs with relentless vomiting).

This dog was also put to sleep immediately.

Dr. Burke states that all 3 dogs were brought to her by the same worker who is “apparently the only person affiliated with the shelter with a conscience.”

When reached for comment by a local media outlet who had obtained a copy of her complaint via FOIA, Dr. Burke replied:

I had previously voiced my concerns about the shelter to Sgt. Maddux and sent him a copy of the NHI Shelter Guidelines where I yellow highlighted the paragraph indicating that budgetary constraints did not excuse neglect. I subsequently learned that prior complaints had resulted in punitive action against hard working, dedicated volunteer “whistleblowers.”

Last week, action was finally taken regarding the shelter:

At the request of Bisbee City Manager Steve Pauken, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an investigation into any potential wrongdoing at the Bisbee Animal Shelter after a dog was euthanized.

But before anyone gets too excited:

“There is no imminent danger involved here,” Pauken said Friday, urging patience to allow the sheriff’s office to complete its investigation.

No imminent danger. Just a pattern of criminal neglect, pets needlessly suffering in pain and retaliation against any volunteer who dares speak the truth.  Be patient.  No need for anyone to break a sweat.

(Thanks Clarice for the links.)

Charlotte Police Officer Who Killed Unarmed Man is a Former ACO

Some of you have likely seen news of the killing of a young man named Jonathan Ferrell in Charlotte, NC on Saturday.  Mr. Ferrell was reportedly involved in a bad accident in which his car went down an embankment in the woods.  He was able to free himself from the wreck by climbing out the back window.  Mr. Ferrell walked 1/4 mile to the nearest home, most likely to ask for help, and the homeowner called police. Three Charlotte police officers arrived and spotted a man in the area who fit the description provided by the homeowner.  Mr. Ferrell reportedly ran towards the officers.

Officer Randall Kerrick, who had drawn his gun, fired 12 rounds at Mr. Ferrell, hitting him 10 times and killing him.  Mr. Ferrell was unarmed.  Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD issued a statement Saturday night indicating that evidence showed Officer Kendrick had used excessive force and fired his weapon needlessly.  Officer Randall Kendrick has been charged with voluntary manslaughter and is on paid administrative leave.

The Charlotte police department runs the local pet killing facility which has a notorious history of abuse.  WBTV in Charlotte reports that Officer Randall Kendrick started his work with the police department in 2010 as a pound employee, transferring the following year to the Hickory Grove division.  During fiscal year 2011, the Charlotte pound killed 11,790 animals.

As we have often discussed on the blog, pet killing not only harms pets, it harms people.  Pet killing facilities sometimes attract and provide cover for people who enjoy hurting defenseless beings.  Sometimes pet killing facilities create monsters by placing people in an environment rife with apathy and needless killing.  An animal shelter is supposed to be a safe haven where lost and homeless animals are protected during their time of need.  Instead in too many places, including Charlotte, they are little more than abusive killing facilities.

No one except Officer Kendrick can claim to know why, instead of protecting and serving Mr. Ferrell in his time of need, he needlessly killed him.  But the link between violence against animals and violence against people is well established.  And the parallel to a related pattern of behavior at the Charlotte pound is worth examining.

(Thanks Lisa for the link.)

Merced Police Kill 1 or 2 Injured Pets Per Month with 1 or 2 Blasts from a Shotgun

In Merced, CA, police officers are tasked with picking up dead and injured pets in the road. What they do with those animals has recently been made public by the Merced Sun Star:

  • Dead pets over 35 pounds are taken to Merced County Animal Control for disposal
  • Dead pets under 35 pounds are placed in a dumpster
  • Injured pets are left to the officer’s discretion: The officer may choose to drive the pet to a veterinarian for assessment and treatment or, if the officer believes the injured animal has no owner, he may choose to drive the pet to the shooting range.

For those pets whom officers opt to take to the shooting range – about one or two per month – they are shot with shotguns by officers with no training in animal euthanasia. Merced police chief Norm Andrade says pets die with one or two shots from the shotgun.

The officers use “common sense” and get approval from their supervisor before shooting the dog, [Andrade] added.

In addition to this horrifying threat of “common sense”, the Merced police department seems to be laboring under the impression that state law allows for these killings:

According to California Penal Code 597.1, any peace officer can “humanely destroy any stray or abandoned animal” if it is too severely injured to move or where a veterinarian is not available.

My layman’s interpretation of this is to allow for on-the-spot euthanizing of gravely mangled stray animals who are still alive but suffering and can not reasonably be moved to a vehicle for transport to a vet. Merced does not seem to fall under the “no vet available” provision. If my interpretation is correct, any stray animal who can be moved to a vehicle for transport should be taken to a vet, not a shooting range.

But that’s just the law. More importantly, there are animal advocates to be blamed:

“They’re very quick to point the finger on what law enforcement should or shouldn’t do,” Andrade said. “I challenge them – if they want to do something about this problem, why aren’t they out there having numerous meetings with the public about how to care for their animals?”

Hells yeah. If you finger-pointy animal advocates aren’t conducting NUMEROUS MEETINGS with the public about pet care, you have no right to complain about pets being taken to the shooting range for killing by untrained police officers. It’s so obvious! One follows the other. Unquestionably.

Merced does have an ACO licensed to euthanize animals by injection, but he’s all blame-the-public-y:

“If we had more responsible owners keeping their dogs in, this wouldn’t be an issue,” [Merced ACO Kim Herzog] said. Stressing the importance of proper identification tags for dogs, he said, “That’s why I always tell people: Put a collar on your dog. That is your dog’s trip to the vet.”

And if the ID falls off or for whatever reason isn’t on the pet at the time he most needs the kindness of public servants, that’s his trip to the shooting range.  You irresponsible bastards.

I don’t want to be overly morbid but I keep coming back to the logistics in my mind.  Once the officer arrives at the shooting range with the injured animal, what happens?  We know the officer has not been trained in animal euthanasia and we know he’s using a shotgun that doesn’t always kill after the first blast.  Do they drape the injured dog over some kind of target or WTF?  I can’t wrap my head around it.  And the fact that the city’s only trained ACO defends the practice and blames owners is mind boggling.  I feel so sorry for any pet owners living in Merced.  May your pets never fall into the hands of these sadistic people.

(Thank you Arlene for alerting me to this story.)

Treats on the Internets

Great article from no kill shelter director Mike Fry on transports and how they don’t necessarily save more shelter pets but rather pad lazy directors’ live release stats.

Nathan Winograd’s response to the California Sheltering Report.

After being charged with 60 felony counts including racketeering, the former director of the Boggs Mountain shelter in GA spent 2 hours in jail then went on a cruise.

Charges against the former Caldwell Co, KY pound director have been dropped due to a technicality.  Prosecutors may seek a new indictment.

In San Diego, cops were caught on video brutalizing an Iraq war veteran at a trolley station.  Police contend there was a public safety concern due to the behavior of the veteran’s dog.  The owner says his dog is not a public threat and showed officers proof that he is a registered therapy dog.  (Thanks Jan for the link.)

A large rescue organization in Costa Rica started a marketing campaign to instill increased value in their mixed breed dogs by creating breeds for every individual.  (Thanks Arlene.)

Hell Yeah:  Buddhist monks on patrol on the Tibetan plateau, protecting snow leopards from poachers.

Open Thread

Talk about anything animal related.

Black cats answer a Hollywood casting call.  [More]

Black cats answer a Hollywood casting call in 1961. [More]